This is Volume 16 of Bis’s complete recording of C.P.E. Bach’s
Keyboard Concertos. With some 52 concertos and 12 sonatinas,
there would seem to be quite a few volumes yet to come - 19
in all? Earlier volumes have received such general praise that
it is almost superfluous for me to comment. See MusicWeb review
14; we seem to have missed out on Volume 15.
The works here range
over the period from 1747 to 1764, when C.P.E. was working for
Frederick the Great, though Wq21 was revised in 1775 for a Hamburg
audience. The notes indicate that Wq27 was also revised for
Hamburg, without specifying a date. With three quite different
works, showing C.P.E.’s response to the changing circumstances
of an age of change, this CD could well serve as an introduction
to the whole series.
The Sonatina in
B-flat, like several of C.P.E.’s works, is designated for ‘two
cembalos’. When such works are played with two harpsichords,
it is very difficult to distinguish between the two solo parts.
Such is the case in a version of the Double Concertos, Wq46
and Wq47, as performed by Gustav Leonhardt and Alan Curtis with
the Collegium Aureum under Franzjosef Maier on an otherwise
recommendable recording: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 05472 77410 2, budget price, coupled with
the Sonatina, Wq109.
This BIS recording
obviates the problem by using instruments with different timbres,
a tangent piano and a harpsichord. This practice is further
justified by the fact that in at least two of the surviving
18th-century manuscripts the parts are labelled ‘Piano-Forte’
Photographs of the
keyboards of the two instruments employed for this recording
are shown in the booklet. The harpsichord was designed by Jonte
Knif after several surviving 18th-century instruments
and built by Arno Pelto. I would have liked to have seen photographs
of the whole instruments and to have been told to what pitch
they were tuned. Judging from our review of Volume 14, the
notes to that CD contain details of the tangent piano, which
was made by Ghislain Potvlieghe in 1998.
I would also have
liked to have seen more information for non-specialists in the
otherwise very detailed notes about what kind of beast the tangent
piano is – an early form of piano in which the strings are struck
by slips of wood like the jacks of a harpsichord, rather than
by hammers (see article in Concise
The other two works
on the CD are divided between these two solo instruments, with
the harpsichord employed for Wq27 and the tangent piano for
Wq21. In the notes Miklós Spányi explains his reasons for his
choice of instruments; though he believes that most of the keyboard
concertos from this period sound better suited to the early
piano, he feels that Wq27 is more convincing on the harpsichord.
to perform Wq27 on the harpsichord is certainly justified in
the context of this recording. A substantial and extrovert
piece, it never outstays its welcome in this performance and
the bright sound of the harpsichord contrasts well with the
orchestral timbre. C.P.E.’s orchestral writing often sounds
much fuller than that of his contemporaries and such is the
case here – at first the impression is that the recording balance
over-favours the bass, but the same is true of many of C.P.E.
Bach’s works. The main exceptions are the Cello Concertos where
he lightens the orchestral texture in contrast with the solo
the tangent piano as producing a beautiful sound. My colleague
Kirk McElhearn, in his review
of Volume 10, agreed with this description but felt that the
instrument was too soft-toned to stand as a concerto soloist.
I did not feel that this was the case in the Sonatina where,
as indicated, the use of piano and harpsichord allows us to
hear how the two soloists weave around one another and the orchestra
in a way which a performance with two harpsichords or two fortepianos
never could. Perhaps Opus X and the harpsichordist, Menno van
Delft – and the engineers? – make greater allowance for the
instrument. It appears, too, that Spányi changed to another
tangent piano with effect from Volume 14.
Don’t be fooled
by the description Sonatina – this is a concerto in all
but name; C.P.E. wrote some twelve pieces with this appellation,
differing from his concertos only in being rather shorter and
lighter, though the two horns and two flutes make the sound
of this Sonatina quite substantial.
within three years of the D major concerto,Wq27, that in a minor,
Wq21 is a very different kind of work, much more in the galant
style. The sound of the tangent piano here is entirely appropriate.
I am normally a much greater fan of the harpsichord than of
any variety of fortepiano, but I was won over by the sound of
this instrument. My only reservation was the thought that it
might have been more appropriate to have switched the order
of the two concertos.
I had not encountered
Opus X before – earlier volumes in this series, prior to 2004,
were made with Concerto Armonico and Péter Szüts. Founded in
1995 by Petri Tapio Mattson, their first artistic director and
still their leader, with Miklós Spányi as their current director,
Opus X’s accompaniment here is all that one could wish.
The excellent soloist,
Miklós Spányi, is also concurrently recording for Bis C.P.E.’s
complete solo keyboard music, likely to run to over 35 volumes
– see MusicWeb review
of the latest, Volume 17.
Apart from the DHM
CD to which I have referred, there is very little in the way
of alternative versions of C.P.E. Bach’s keyboard concertos.
of Volume 14 mentions two alternatives. With performances like
these, however, the shortage of choice is hardly to be regretted.
The covers of these
Bis recordings are not the most exciting imaginable, but what
they lack in excitement they make up for in good taste. Apart
from the omissions which I have noted, the notes are as recommendable
as the performances. With excellent recording, especially on
the brighter of my two systems, this latest volume may be approached